Seven pivotal moments from AOC’s first term in Congress
Seven pivotal moments from AOC’s first term in Congress
Following her stunning primary challenge win against a former Democratic powerhouse in 2018, progressive New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has emerged as one of the most influential political figures in the US.
In office, the 30-year-old congresswoman has co-signed hundreds of pieces of legislation and amplified progressives nationwide on her growing platforms, though her influence has resonated globally.
After campaigning for Bernie Sanders in 2016, she became a vital endorsement for the Vermont senator’s 2020 presidential run. During a Queens rally for the candidate in October, she said: “I’m in the United States Congress now … a long, long way from being a sexually harassed waitress in downtown Manhattan one year ago. The halls of Congress are no joke.”
Here are several pivotal moments from the congresswoman’s freshman term.
‘Wait till they find out Congresswomen dance too’
Republican smear attempts began well before AOC‘s arrival in Congress, relying on conservative media and racist tropes to attempt to undermine her “inexperience” in office.
On the day she was sworn in as the nation’s youngest member of Congress, one poster’s attempt to embarrass her included a 30-second video of her dancing on a roof while in college.
“Here is America’s favourite commie know-it-all acting like the clueless nitwit she is,” the post said, claiming that the viral footage was from a “high school video of ‘Sandy’ Ocasio-Cortez”. The right often used her nickname against her in an attempt to undermine her ethnicity.
In response, she shared a video of her dancing outside her new office set to Edwin Starr’s “War”.
“I hear the GOP thinks women dancing are scandalous,” she wrote on Twitter. “Wait till they find out Congresswomen dance too!”
The original clip — in which AOC and classmates recreate dances from The Breakfast Club — was remixed by supporters, and her response video was immortalised as a go-to reaction gif.
Green New Deal
A month after she entered office, AOC introduced a measure with Senator Ed Markey to provide a framework for an ambitious vision of America’s environmental policy.
The Green New Deal’s nonbinding resolution, framed as a moral governing document to combat and prevent devastation from the climate crisis, also became an urgent campaign issue in 2020, as progressives and mass movements of young people challenge Washington to embrace its goals.
In March, she slammed Republican members of Congress who called the Green New Deal an “elitist” plan as the GOP immediately dismissed it as too costly.
“One year ago I was waitressing at a taco shop in downtown Manhattan,” she responded. “I just got health insurance for the first time a month ago. This is not an elitist issue. This is a quality of life issue. You want to tell people that their concern and their desire for clean air and clean water is elitist? Tell that to the kids of the South Bronx who are suffering from the highest rates of childhood asthma in the country … People are dying. This should not be a partisan issue.”
As for its cost, “we’re going to pay for this whether we pass a Green New Deal or not,” she said. “Because as towns and cities go underwater, as wildfires ravage our communities, we are going to pay. And we’re either going to decide if we’re going to pay to react, or if we’re going to pay to be proactive.”
It was often hard for members of Congress to resist largely repetitive grandstanding and outrage in committees reviewing allegations facing the president and his allies during the Russia scandal and impeachment investigation.
But it was the congresswoman’s pointed, stone-faced four-minute grilling in February 2019 that forced the president’s former attorney Michael Cohen to name names — under oath — of those involved in his scheme to buy years of dirt on the president from tabloids. She also forced him to name people involved with the president’s finances, going after his alleged strategy of inflating the values of his assets to insurance companies while deflating their value to the government to limit his tax liabilities.
She explicitly asked Cohen: “Did the president ever inflate his assets to an insurance company?”
“Yes,” he responded.
“Who else knows that the president did this?” she asked. Mr Cohen gave the names of three top Trump organisation executives, Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman and Matthew Calamari.
“Where would the committee find more information on this?” she asked. “Do you think we need to review his financial statements and tax returns to compare them?”
Lawmakers have scrutinised Facebook for its 2016 election controversies, safe harbour for white supremacists and other hate groups, and inability to stop misinformation on the platform.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced several hours of questions from the House Financial Services Committee in October in what was ostensibly testimony about the platform’s cryptocurrency project Libra.
AOC raked the Facebook chief through several pointed questions about the platform’s policy about fact-checking political ads on the platform and his “dinner parties with far-right figures” and whether they influence his company’s policies, particularly a conspiracy — supported by the president — that social media censors conservatives.
“Do you see a potential problem here with a complete lack of fact-checking on political advertisements?” she asked.
He responded: “Congresswoman, I think lying is bad. I think if you were to run an ad that had a lie that would be bad. That’s different from it being — in our position, the right thing to prevent your constituents or people in an election from seeing that you had lied.”
“So you won’t take down lies or you will take down lies? It’s a pretty simple yes or no,” she responded.
“In most cases, in a democracy, I believe that people should be able to see for themselves what politicians that they may or may not vote for for themselves,” he said.
“You won’t take them down?” she replied. “You may flag that it’s wrong, but you won’t take it down?”
He said that “it depends on the context that it shows up.”
Detention centres on US-Mexico border
AOC and a delegation of Democrats brought attention to a humanitarian crisis on the US-Mexico border following a tour of two Texas detention centres housing people accused of entering the country without legal permission. The trip followed reports of deaths of children in custody and routine separation of families at the border.
They arrived as ProPublica reported a closed Facebook group with current and former US Customs and Border Patrol agents shared jokes about the deaths of migrants in custody and made derogatory comments about and shared explicit images of the congresswoman.
AOC railed against the “systemic cruelty” and inhumane conditions at the centres, where women were forced to drink from toilets because they lacked access to water.
“I see why CBP officers were being so physically & sexually threatening towards me,” she said. “Officers were keeping women in cells w/ no water & had told them to drink out of the toilets.”
But “it’s not just the kids,” she said. “It’s everyone. People drinking out of toilets, officers laughing in front of members Congress. … I brought it up to their superiors. They said ‘officers are under stress & act out sometimes.’ No accountability.”
AOC returned to her district home amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has devastated her neighbourhoods as New York emerged as a Covid-19 epicentre. She was the only Democrat to vote against a $484 million federal relief package that she argued was too generous to corporations rather than newly unemployed Americans, essential workers and local governments bracing for significant blows to their budgets as they respond to a growing public health crisis.
But her #WeGotOurBlock campaign providing mutual aid toolkits revived a kind of personal and tangible governing rarely seen in modern politics, to help Americans buy and deliver groceries, pharmacies and other necessities in building up support in neighbourhoods across the US.
AOC has provided frequent political education and question-and-answer sessions on social media, broadcast on Instagram Live and reaching thousands of people at a time.
She has an enormous number of followers — nearly 4.8 million on Instagram (and another 650,000 on her official congressional account) and another 7.4 million on Twitter — and she’s among a small group of politicians who are actually able to use them.
But her impromptu live sessions provide a rare, unscripted glimpse into political life in a way that feels authentic to young people using the platforms.